Not only words

By now you’ve seen that joint family-salsa ad, for 18 Again, a vaginal tightening cream, which helps you hold on to hubby and preserve social order. Because “the vagina tends to lose its tone and elasticity due to age, repeated sex, childbirth, excessive exercise and many more factors.”

In short, Life. And obviously that’s a turn off for men and forces them into the trauma of infidelity. But no more, because it’s here! A product for men that empowers women! Isn’t that the greatest?

Because “18 Again has the power and the potential to break the shackles and redefine the meaning of women empowerment altogether.” If you don’t believe them, you have Celina Jaitley and two other fine actors known for their work in the Vagina Monologues, to endorse it at the launch.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

What can you say about products like this? They will continue to exist as long as there is patriarchy and its narrow definitions wherein a woman can be beautiful only in one way. This often means she should look half her age, as if time has left no mark on her, her experience camouflaged by a smooth exterior.

And as long as these ideas exist, there will be women who feel unable to break out of those limits and who pretend that their anxious dieting, gymming and cosmetic surgery are about fitness, not appearance. There will be others — men and women — who will try to resist these stifling norms and sometimes give up, because life is complicated.

Surely, this anxiety is fertile ground enough for the manufactures and advertisers of these products? So can they just say you’ll feel 18 again and trust that people are oppressed enough to buy it and leave words like empowerment the hell alone? We don’t need you to redefine the meaning of empowerment, we like the existing meaning just fine.

Don’t say, in your twitter feed that thanks to you, “the revolution has begun.” The revolution began a very long time ago, because women and men had the courage to go against the tide, fight against dowry, genital mutilation, beauty myths, the glass ceiling, caste prejudice and for equal wages, education and the right to choice. Empowerment and revolution are not just words. They are meaningful histories. So have some respect for them.

I’m talking to you too, Celina Jaitley. Please do not say things like “I have been supporting the cause of human rights, women and children’s health, and sex workers rehabilitation in India and I am proud to be associated with this product which I am sure will empower women.”

I hate to break it to you Celina, but, vaginal tightening is not a human right. We do not grudge you your human right to earn a living as an actor. Endorse the cream if you so wish, but do not say that it represent women’s empowerment, or feminism, which gave you so many chances. Please make the distinction between the acting and the activism.

I would also humbly request the beautiful, feisty ladies of a certain age present at the launch, who have rousingly performed The Vagina Monologues, a play which aims to rescue the vagina from a place of shame and darkness, with the use of powerful words, not tightening and whitening creams — please do not confuse this issue and rob your good work of its power.

And other ladies and gents, it’s really time you rejected this claptrap. It’s dumb, it’s uncool and also, it costs Rs 2,430 a pop. Get on with the real revolution now, it’s much nicer than being 18 again.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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